Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publish Date: April 18th, 2007
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.
So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
“A human doesn’t have a heart like mine. The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time. The consequence of this is that I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and it wonder how the same thing can be both.”
Those would be the words of the first person narrator of Markus Zusak’s best-selling novel, The Book Thief. This chilling tale is written from Death’s perspective, providing a unique outlook on the unfolding narrative. Instead of being portrayed as the grisly Grim Reaper we are accustomed to, Death is represented as a kind, empathetic individual who is fascinated by the constantly changing color of the sky. Set against the backdrop of World War II, Death recounts the story of Liesel Meminger’s childhood in Nazi Germany. As she learns to read, Liesel fosters a love of books, eventually earning her the title of “the book thief.” Liesel is first exposed to the true horrors of the Holocaust when her parents agree to hide a 24-year-old Jew by the name of Max Vanderbelt. As Liesel matures, she struggles to find her identity and formulate her own opinions amidst the turmoil and upheaval around her.
I immediately fell in love with Zusak’s writing, which weaves an unforgettable story of love, friendship, and loss. Instead of subtly foreshadowing the events to come, Zusak states them outright, telling readers about quite a few major plot points in advance. He chooses to leave out any details surrounding the event in question, leaving readers with baited breath and a growing sense of dread when they realizes that they are unable to influence the outcome. When you finally arrive at a particularly scene, it is still unexpected and heart-wrenching, if not more so. This unusual and original method quickly captured my attention, holding my attention for the duration of the novel.
Another one of the redeeming qualities of this book is the portrayal of the Germans themselves. World War II is a topic which most individuals study several times throughout their education. Each time the topic is taught,the Germans are displayed in the same negative light. The Book Thief, however, paints a much more vulnerable, compassionate picture of the Germans. Despite their German heritage, many of he he characters actively oppose the Nazi’s, sympathizing with and protecting the Jews. This new perspective was quite an eye opener, making The Book Thief a unique and refreshing read.
Liesel Meminger, the 10-year-old protagonist, possesses a sense of innocence that is rarely found in literature. Her kind, empathetic nature make her a lovable and endearing character. She finds comfort in the power of words, sharing her gift of reading with those around her to alleviate their suffering. Her curiosity and firm convictions cause her to question the ideals of German society and create a solid foundation for her own values and beliefs.
Despite popular classifications of The Book Thief as a Young Adult novel, it addresses a series of issues that apply to both an adult and adolescent audience. It’s captivating plot and lovable characters apply to a large range of readers. I wouldn’t, however, recommend this book to anyone under the age of 13 – it deals with several mature topics, including the horrors of World War II.
Overall, this tale of sorrow and heartbreak touches the hearts of all of its readers, leaving them with lasting impressions. It’s seemingly simple plot is intertwined with deeper, more complex themes that are not initially apparent. It’s unforgettable message transcends all barriers, speaking to those undergoing persecution or abuse. This timeless story speaks of the true horrors of World War II and it’s effects on ordinary citizens worldwide, calling to mind a period of history that will never be forgotten.